An Interview with Arthur Lefkowitz, author of Benedict Arnold in the Company of Heroes: The Lives of the Extraordinary Patriots who followed Arnold to Canada at the start of the American Revolution
Scroll down to see an interview with Arthur Lefkowitz on Benedict Arnold's Army
: Why did you decide to write your book on Benedict Arnold’s veterans?
ASL: I got the idea to write Benedict Arnold in the Company of Heroes when I reluctantly had to admit that my book about the 1775 Arnold Expedition (SB title Benedict Arnold's Army) had to end with the failed American attack on Quebec which took place on December 31st, 1775. While researching my book about the Arnold Expedition I learned about the subsequent careers of some of the officers and enlisted men who followed Arnold to Canada in 1775. They were a fascinating group who included some of the best American combat officers to emerge as the Revolutionary War wore on.
: How did Benedict Arnold in the Company of Heroes develop?
ASL: My manuscript developed with several chapters following the American defeat at Quebec, identifying these young American patriots and what happened to them after they were all captured by the British. I gave the manuscript to my friend and noted Rev War author and scholar Thomas Fleming. Tom said that I should end the book with the story of the American attack on Quebec and cut all the subsequent material. I realized that he was right but it was a heartbreaker. That's when I got the idea to write a sequel to "Benedict Arnold's Army". My deleted material became the nucleus of my new book. Ironically, my new book is now being edited and on the advice to Tom Fleming, I just cut about eight pages of carefully researched material from the manuscript to make the book stronger.
: What is the story behind the cover of Benedict Arnold in the Company of Heroes?
ASL: The cover art for this book is an original oil painting by artist-historian Dahl Taylor. The front of Mr. Taylor’s wrap-around cover art shows Major Gen. Benedict Arnold conferring with Col. Daniel Morgan on Bemis Heights during the 1777 Saratoga campaign. This was the strong American defensive position which successfully blocked Gen. John Burgoyne’s offensive from Canada.
Both Arnold and Morgan were veterans of the 1775 Arnold Expedition. Morgan is shown wearing the same clothing depicted in John Trumbull’s painting titled The Surrender of General Burgoyne at Saratoga. Trumbull served as an officer during the Revolutionary War and he accurately depicted uniforms and weapons in his historical paintings. The helmet worn by the mounted dragoon behind Arnold also comes from Trumbull’s painting of Burgoyne’s surrender. The building in the background is a fortified barn that was known to have been on Bemis Heights at the time. Archeological excavations indicate that it was a Dutch style barn.
: Can you tell us about the people standing behind Arnold and Morgan?
ASL: The soldier behind Morgan is a rifleman. He is carrying a folding pike, a weapon which was proposed by Commissary Gen. Benjamin Flower in July 1777 for use by riflemen whose guns could not mount a bayonet. It is possible that some of Morgan’s riflemen were armed with this pike at Saratoga. The illustration below shows the design of Gen. Flower’s pike.
The musket horse (gun rack) in the painting is based on a background detail in the 1781 portrait of Col. Walter Stewart by Charles Willson Peale in 1781. The guns on the rack are French Charleville muskets. They were among the shipments of weapons that arrived from France in time to supply Gates’ army at Saratoga. The bayonets are fixed to the muskets which was a logical practice at the time since each musket was hand-made and its bayonet custom-fitted.
The two officers behind Morgan are Major Henry Brockholst Livingston and his nineteen year old cousin Matthew Clarkson. They were Arnold’s aides-de-camps at the time and their function (aide) is identified by the green ribband-of-office that they are wearing across their chests. Note that one of the aides is carrying a dispatch case.
The group of soldiers standing behind Arnold’s aides are members of the First New York regiment. The Saratoga campaign culminated in October and Dahl Taylor shows the autumn colors in his painting.
The two dogs in the painting are the author’s terriers Jackson (standing next to Arnold) and Schuyler who is near Arnold’s aides. Jackson gets around and he was last depicted sitting in a bateau on the Kennebec River on the cover of the author’s book Benedict Arnold’s Army.
: What makes Benedict Arnold in the Company of Heroes unique from other books on the same topic?
ASL: There is no other book like mine. Benedict Arnold is acknowledged as arguably America's best combat officer prior to his treason. Benedict Arnold in the Company of Heroes offers a new contribution that Arnold made to the patriot cause. My book explains that young officers and men who served under Arnold in the Arnold Expedition got to see a dynamic style of leadership that they applied later in the Revolutionary War to the benefit of the Continental army. Arnold commanded from the front. He set an example of courage and determination for his men. He was brave and ready to face any danger or hardship to successfully complete his mission. He was willing to take risks and always had a positive attitude which inspired the men who served under him to act boldly.
: What are some features of Benedict Arnold in the Company of Heroes that you really enjoy that you think readers will also really enjoy?
ASL: I think my favorite part of my new book is the complicated escape plot that the enlisted men from the Arnold Expedition concocted not only to break-out of their prison in Quebec but to capture the city. I do not believe that this story has ever been told before. I also like my brief description of the ceremony that brought the body of the American general Richard Montgomery from Quebec to New York City. You can read this account starting on page 163 of chapter 4 of my new book.
: Thank you both for your time, we appreciate it.
ASL: You're welcome.
An Interview with Benedict Arnold's Army: The 1775 American Invasion of Canada During the Revolutionary War author Arthur Lefkowitz
: What sparked your interest in the Arnold Expedition?
ASL: Every introductory history of the American Revolution includes some basic information about the 1775 Arnold Expedition. I became interested in the subject while reading these brief accounts, and I wanted to learn more.
: Could you briefly discuss the campaign?
ASL: Shortly after George Washington arrived in Cambridge, Massachusetts to take command of the Continental Army, he learned about his officers’ interest in sending a detachment through the Maine district of Massachusetts to capture British held Quebec. He liked the idea, and he selected Benedict Arnold, an obscure and controversial Connecticut militia officer, to command the independent surprise attack on Quebec. Washington’s selection of Arnold was based on the General’s skill in identifying talented people and encouraging them. In an amazing feat of organization, Washington organized and equipped what he believed was a secret mission. Unfortunately the British were aware of his every move. (Laughing) Read my book to find out what happens next.
: Why do you think little has been written about this time period in Arnold’s life?
ASL: I believe that Arnold’s treason made historians shy away from celebrating his early contributions to the American patriot cause. Fortunately, history writing has become more pragmatic in recent years allowing a more balanced view of Arnold and acknowledging his early exploits and role as one of America’s best combat officers.
: Could you explain Arnold’s controversial behavior?
ASL: Benedict Arnold made significant unselfish contributions to the American patriot cause early in the war, including leading the 1775 Arnold Expedition and the 1776 defense of Lake Champlain. However, some historians question his leadership during the 1777 Saratoga campaign. They believe he unnecessarily risked the lives of the men who followed him when he led the dangerous attacks. But Arnold’s controversial behavior at Saratoga is a sideshow in relation to his 1780 odious treason which, on top of recent American defeats in the south and an economic crisis, rocked the Revolutionary cause to its core.
: Does Arnold’s behavior early in his life and during the war offer clues as to why he abandoned the Colonial movement?
ASL: Absolutely, in fact I emphasize this point throughout Benedict Arnold’s Army. Arnold had some serious emotional problems stemming from his youth. He was, for example, obsessed with honor and the need for recognition. He made enemies in high places easily and was not good at diplomacy. By 1780 Arnold was probably down to one influential friend: George Washington, who admired him.
: Was Arnold a good leader?
ASL: Numerous diaries kept during the Arnold Expedition reveal that he was considered a brilliant, courageous combat officer who had a gift for motivating his men. He was also concerned about their health and welfare. However, he was a poor administrator, which became evident when the Arnold Expedition ran into trouble.
: Discuss the closing chapter of your book.
ASL: Certainly, that was a chapter that I enjoyed working on. It is a summary of what there is to see in Maine and Canada associated with the Arnold Expedition. However, it is critical to study the campaign first so you can use your knowledge and imagination to get the most out of your trip. When I started this project I read travel guides to Maine assuming that I would find information about the Arnold Expedition. I never found a word on the subject in any of the guide books that I read. I made four field trips to Maine and Canada while researching this book and traveled the route during each trip, often with local historians.
: Were you able to incorporate any previously unpublished material into the book?
ASL: Yes, my book benefits from several important documents that I found during my extensive research. My most exciting find was Arnold’s manuscript letter book from the campaign. There were a few pages of hand-written notes inserted into the book explaining that Aaron Burr gifted it to the Society in 1831. Burr was a teenage gentleman volunteer on the Arnold Expedition, and his recollections of the expedition provided me with some valuable and intriguing information. My interest in Burr was one of my reasons for researching the expedition.
: Can you briefly discuss Burr’s early accomplishments?
ASL: Burr is one of the most controversial figures in American history. He was on the Arnold Expedition serving as an unpaid gentleman volunteer who hoped that his extemporary service would earn him an officer’s commission. Burr was 19 years old at the time and he was appointed a captain and aide-de-camp to General Richard Montgomery when the Arnold Expedition arrived in Canada. He went on to serve with distinction and honor as an American officer until he retired from the service as a colonel in 1779 due to his poor health. His wartime service record included leading a regiment into battle at the 1778 Battle of Monmouth.
: What about after the Revolutionary War?
ASL: I belong to a wonderful 12-step fellowship program which helped me realize that other people will help you if you are willing to ask for help. It taught me that God is alive and well and wants me to share what I have learned with people facing similar challenges. I have never met anyone who does not know an individual in their life who suffers from alcoholism. The book Under the Influence helped me recognize my own alcoholism, and I refer to this book in Flying Drunk. In the end, my mission to help others become and stay sober is what keeps me sober.
: What about after the Revolutionary War?
ASL: Burr may have been an ostentatious lawyer and politician when he fought his famous duel with Hamilton in 1804, but he was also a combat hardened, tough veteran of the American Revolution who knew how to keep a cool head and aim a pistol.
: Do you think there is a growing interest in literature on the Revolutionary War? If so, why?
ASL: Yes I do. I believe that Americans want to look back to a time where they can take pride in their country’s history. Also, George Washington has been gaining in his stature as a dedicated and unselfish leader who is known and respected today all over the world. To me, his greatest wartime contributions were his steady, calming leadership throughout the conflict, establishing the supremacy of the civilian government over the military and the humane treatment of prisoners. Our War for Independence delivers the values that people want to believe is the foundation of our nation and makes us special as setting world history on a new course of protecting personal liberties and representative government that serves the people.
: Thank you for your time, Mr. Lefkowitz.
ASL: You’re welcome, it was my pleasure.
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